Dealing with Exam Anxiety: A Survival Guide

Wellbeing May 13, 2024

Picture this: you’ve been preparing extensively; from notes to past papers and everything in between, you've covered it all. But you still end up panicking and blanking on test day. Whether this is something you’ve already experienced, or something you dread happening, you’re not alone. The key to acing your exams is not just learning everything you can, but also being confident in your abilities. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Anxiety creeps up during every stage of exam season, so here’s my guide to tackling it!

Before the Exam

Don’t overwork yourself the day before: If you’ve been consistently preparing, there’s no point in overwhelming yourself with new information at the last minute. You might discover an unfamiliar topic and become hung up on it, which will shatter your confidence. Instead, revise what you’ve already done: skim through your notes and go through any past mistakes so you don’t make them again.

Gather your supplies beforehand: Make a list of whatever you need for exam day and lay it out the night before. This provides a sense of control since you’ll know you won’t have to worry about it in the morning. You don’t want to add another layer of stress on top of everything else! (Tip: Take an extra overshirt since some exam halls tend to be really cold)

Get sufficient sleep: This sounds obvious, but getting at least 8 hours of sleep really does help! Pulling an all nighter works in dire cases, but it quickly becomes unsustainable. Get into the habit of waking up early, even on non-exam days. This will help you feel less tense about being unenergetic in the exam hall since you’ll already be used to it!

During the Exam

Manage your time: If you've been doing past papers or just practicing in general, you'll recognize the questions you typically breeze through as well as the ones that require all of your brain power. Keep an eye on the clock and divide your time wisely between them- don't forget to save a few minutes to recheck!

Focus on yourself: Giving an exam is a daunting task, but if you stay focused on what you've been preparing for, you'll be done in a blink. Don't look around at other people until you're done- the pace they're completing their paper at has nothing to do with you! Exam halls can also be very overstimulating, so if you feel overwhelmed and want to take a breather or need a glass of water, don't be afraid to ask an invigilator for help!

Don't panic over a single question: If you encounter a tricky question, stay calm! Take a deep breath and read through it again carefully, processing every word. If you still don't get it, mark it as unsolved and move on! Once you get back to it, you'll have the relief of knowing you've solved the questions you know, and you might be able to understand it now. Even if you don't, it's okay! It's very likely that everyone found that question hard, so just try your best instead of leaving it empty.

After the Exam

Focus on your next exam: After your exam, try to avoid calculating your grade or comparing your answers with others. What's done is done, and there's no point in dwelling over something you can't change. What you can change, however, is the outcome of your next exam! Did poorly on your latest one? No worries, you can always do better on the rest! Did well? That’s great! Carry that positive attitude for the next one; maybe you’ll do even better this time!

Treat yourself: You survived one of the most nerve-wracking parts of life; of course you deserve to treat yourself! Even the smallest acts of self care can help you motivate yourself to keep going. You might feel unworthy of a reward after a disappointing exam, but you still deserve one for trying your hardest! Nothing helps more than a nice warm meal to calm yourself down and freshen your mind.

Learn what works for you: Whether you’re giving an official exam for the first time or you’ve been through the experience a couple times already, you’ll keep learning what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t get frustrated at yourself for not finding a common study method or exam tip useful- they don't help everyone and that's okay. Focus on learning from your mistakes and growing at your own pace!

At the end of the day, as important as these exams seem, it isn’t the end of the world if they all don’t go your way. Treating them as almost life threatening works to get you to start studying, but after that it’s an unhealthy mindset. Set your own motivations and goals, and go in believing that you'll do well- you might just prove yourself right! And when you're finally done with all of this, don't think about result day. Just relax, you deserve it!